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Ask Jeeves: The Idiot Stepchild of Search

Is Ask’s marketing strategy a gift or a curse?

Is Ask’s marketing strategy a gift or a curse? I think it’s a bit of both. (Whatever the case, my mother-in-law literally thinks there is a real man called Jeeves who answers your questions when you hit the Search button.)

Apparently Scott Garrell, president of Ask Networks, said in a recent interview: “In a very tough and competitive market, we’re holding our own… people don’t talk in keywords.”

Well, my mother-in-law doesn’t, but then she can’t set the timer on the microwave. It’s always 00:00 in that house. It’s like Groundhog Day, only far less interesting and without the inestimable hangdog charm of Bill Murray.

But I digress. Interestingly, Ask.com’s share of U.S. search queries dropped from 4.5 percent in May 2008 to 3.9 percent in May of this year, while market leader Google grew its share from 61.8 percent to 65 percent (according to comScore). Of course, Garrell is quick to point out the search engine handled 486 million U.S. queries in May 2008 and 555 million in May of this year.

Well done, Ask. You’ve cornered the market for idiots who can barely dress themselves.
I guess this was mostly from people typing in queries like: “How do I tie my own shoelaces?”

Garrell adds: “We get more queries in the form of a question than the industry average, and we get queries that are longer.”

Of course you do. You’ve branded yourself “Ask Jeeves” and have a big picture of a butler on your homepage. Well done, Ask. You’ve cornered the market for idiots who can barely dress themselves. (However, it might not be all bad – these are exactly the kind of people who’re going to click on the first ad that comes up.)

Surely people have changed the way they use the web so that semantic search is a little redundant? And it’s not even as if Ask have nailed it. There’s clearly still a long, long way to go if this company wants to nail semantic search – and let’s face it, it is a gargantuan task. Yahoo! Answers probably does a better job for any idiosyncratic queries while *any* other search engine will latch onto the relevant keywords in the query and return an answer as good as Ask’s.

They do a bunch of good, useful satellite domains like dictionary.com, and they’re still a presence in the search market – but not for much longer. Ask’s core customer base is a dying breed.

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More Stories By Jim Williams

Jim Williams is an ex-journalist and professional PR. He is interested in Web 2.0, the latest marketing trends, web services, SaaS and SOA.